A Story and A Question: Is Your Laughter Joyous?
There was a story that I read as a kid in a Hindi magazine for children. The story was about a village that nestled next to a forest somewhere. Village legend said that the forest was home to a treasure of limitless value. Protecting this treasure was a witch who was very powerful. In fact, none of the many people who had dared to venture into the forest in search of the treasure had ever returned.
Laughter, True Laughter
Having heard about the treasure since he could remember it, a young lad decided to find it. The villagers were all devastated and his family tried everything it could do to stop him. His mother pleaded with him and promised to make him his favourite meals always. His brother handed him the cycle that the lad had always fought with him for and said that the lad could keep it for good. His father promised to never ask him to work in the fields with him again. But the boy was resolute. He packed some food for his journey and went into the forest, leaving behind his weeping family and friends.
He walked through the forest for a long time and eventually reached the witch. She had been waiting for him, she said. She knew he had come in search of the treasure and she would happily give it to him if he did the one thing she asked of him, as she did of everybody who had come to her for the treasure in the past. The lad braced himself for a challenging task. The witch asked him to laugh for her. She could hear his thoughts and she asked him to think about something that made him laugh.
The lad was naturally puzzled. Here he was, prepared to execute tremendously challenging tasks and all he was supposed to do was laugh? But he did not question her. He closed his eyes and thought about the time that he, with a group of his friends had seen a bear trapped in a hunter’s snare at the edge of the forest and had thrown stones at him. They had so much fun that time. He laughed at the memory. The witch said that is not laughter; that is cruelty. You laughed at a trapped animal’s misery.
Then the lad thought about the time that a young man with disability was crossing the street with his father and had looked funny. His arms were crooked and his tongue hung out of his mouth and spit dribbled down his shirt. The witch said that is not laughter; that is mockery of somebody who has been created in a different way.
So the lad thought of the time that his best friend had shared a joke about the beautiful woman who lived down their street. It was a crude joke and everybody knew it was not true but they had all laughed because it was funny. The witch said that is not laughter; that is vulgarity. You made up vulgar and derogatory stories about a woman and laughed at her.
The lad kept thinking of many such instances but the witch pointed out repeatedly why it was not laughter. The lad began to despair. He could not think anymore and he felt that now the witch will kill him for sure. He felt helpless and he kept his eyes closed, breathing deeply so that he could feel alive while he had the chance to. As he stood there, he felt the cool air enter his lungs and felt the warm rays fall on his head and face. He felt the breeze against his skin and heard the songs of the birds. He heard the rustle of the leaves and the combined feeling was so peaceful and joyous that he laughed.
When he opened his eyes, he found the witch smiling at him. She said that he had found true laughter at last and said he could claim the treasure for his own. But the lad saw that what he had learnt that day was more precious than any treasure and went back, a changed person.
It’s Not Funny
This story comes to my mind every time I hear a sexist joke, a joke about rape, a joke about how a person looks and a lot of what I see on TV and read via sms that is being passed around as humour. Often when I express dissent at such “humorous remarks” I am told to not take everything so seriously and to see that it is all in jest and fun. But is it really funny when it is derogatory?
So I ask you to think about all the times you laughed. Is it truly joyful? Or is it cruelty?